Development of a Dairy Farm Sustainability Checksheet and Establishment of Distance Education Program for Training CES and NRCS Personnel to Work with Dairy Farmers
1. Through the design, evaluation and subsequent use of a dairy farm sustainability checksheet, educators and producers will learn what to consider in assessing a dairy farm (cattle, sheep or goats) with an emphasis on whole farm planning and forage systems.
2. Through the use of well-planned demonstrations, farm visits and workshop attendance, educators and farmers will learn the complex (biological, financial and social) interrelationships that must be considered in order to increase the sustainability of family dairy farms.
3. Through training in the use of distance learning techniques, 50 educators and producers will learn an appropriate technology they can use on their farms and in future programs that will save time and money.
While this project is similar to the sustainable beef project, it has followed a different path. The group that was formed to develop a sustainable dairy farm checksheet understands the difficult times that dairies are going through and has a deep interest in doing what they can to improve the ability of dairy farmers to survive and succeed. Prior to the start date of this grant, many of this group were able to attend the workshop on “Multi-Disciplinary Training on Pasture-Based Dairy System”, a southern SARE funded project, held in North Carolina in the summer of 1999. Attending this workshop together created the dynamics of the group and is one reason this project has been so effective.
While the opinion of the farmers in the checksheet group is that only grass-based dairies are sustainable, the educators wanted to make sure that the checksheet also had sections in it for confinement dairies to help those farmers think of different ways to make their operations more sustainable. As a result, this checksheet is 22 pages. In contrast to the opinions that the beef checksheet is too long for most producers at 12 pages, there has been no resistance to the length of this checksheet by any of the test farms. They still feel overwhelmed by the checksheet on receiving it, and some initially had trouble with the questions. By the time all of them went through it though, they all were impressed with the thoroughness of the checksheet and admitted that it helped them to see their farm as a whole.
There has also been discussion about the need for an EZ version of the checksheet. It is felt that such a version is needed to interest people without overwhelming them. An EZ version will be developed in the next month.
The outcomes have been very positive so far. This group, particularly the farmers, has been very involved in all aspects of the project. The agents who traveled to TN are interested in more information and more training. NRCS would additional training also. State level extension in AR has been very supportive of their agents receiving training and being given time to travel.
The Middle TN Experiment Station divided their dairy herd, grazing half and leaving half in confinement. They have seen great benefits both in the economics as well as the health of their cows. The herd manager who attended the workshop in NC is completely convinced about the benefits of a grazing dairy.
There will be trips for agents of both extension and NRCS to the Southwest Missouri Agricultural Research and Education Center which has had a seasonal grass-based dairy project in place for two years now. Other trips are planned for MTES to document their progress through seasons.
Even with all the support from state level personnel, time for agents to visit farms and attend training sessions is still a major constraint on achieving the training goal of this project. Dairy farmers too have trouble scheduling meetings. Many of the field days in the area have been cancelled, not due to lack of interest but to lack of time. In an effort to meet the needs of all these people, a digital video camera has been purchased in order to tape field days and trips to outside locations. These will be put on a website that is being developed. An electronic mail group has also been put in place for all interested dairy people.
The other major part of this project addresses the use of videoconferencing equipment and software. This project will examine additional uses for the technology.